Diocesan News

Visiting Priest From India a Welcome Regular at St. Francis Xavier

Father Innaiah Kondaveti who hails from the Diocese of Nalgonda in South India, spends his summers serving the parishioners of St. Francis Xavier in Park Slope. (Photo: Allyson Escobar)

PARK SLOPE — Long walks through the neighborhood is how Father Innaiah Kondaveti, a priest from India who has been serving at St. Francis Xavier parish, Park Slope, every summer since 2006 ends each day.

The 57-year-old priest says that the leisurely walks hardly compare to his long commutes between parishes in his rural home diocese of Nalgonda in the southern part of India, where less than 2 percent of the population is Catholic and where he says Mass in different villages, often traveling for hours, or for even days, by moped or on bus between places.

Father Kondaveti is one of 80 visiting priests from around the world who have served in 75 parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn this summer. The diocese and individual parishes pay for the priests’ travel and housing costs and handle getting work visas for the priests, who also get paid a stipend.

Many of the priests, like Father Kondaveti, have been coming to Brooklyn or Queens for years. Father Kondaveti’s service at St. Francis Xavier gives Father William Rueger, the pastor, a chance to take a vacation. When Father Rueger is gone, Father Kondaveti is the only full-time priest in the parish.

A typical day in Park Slope for Father Kondaveti includes celebrating the daily 9 a.m. Mass, taking prayerful daily walks, trying Italian food around the neighborhood, visiting the sick and elderly and making spiritual calls to parishioners at their homes.   

Longtime St. Francis Xavier parishioners are grateful for the presence of the soft-spoken priest and say they look forward to his visit each summer, when things are typically quiet. 

Delores Votto and Anne Murphy, parishioners at St. Francis Xavier for nearly 60 years, are regular attendees of Father Kondaveti’s daily morning Masses.  

“He’s an absolute blessing. We always look forward to his visits, and he’s done so much for this community for all these years,” Votto said. “We’ve learned so much from him.”

“He’s really our friend, and he’s wonderful,” Murphy said. “He’s there for everybody, and he has time for everybody. It doesn’t matter what or who you are, he’s there for you.”   

Father Kondaveti came to Brooklyn in June and is returning to India on Sept. 1, taking a 22-hour flight.

(Photo: Allyson Escobar)

He says that he looks forward to his visits to New York, because the community in the historic neighborhood of Park Slope is “very faithful” and “moves slower” in the summertime. 

His favorite meal is Italian food, often visiting Al Di La Trattoria restaurant on 5th Avenue, and enjoys summer walks through Brooklyn Botanical Garden. 

Father Kondaveti also recalls the first time he saw the Statue of Liberty, saying the moment was “emotional…the freedom she symbolizes means a lot for myself and others.”

He says that he looks forward to his visits to New York, because the community in the historic neighborhood of Park Slope is “very faithful” and “moves slower” in the summertime. 

There is no comparison between New York City and the rural part of south India, where he serves the other 10 months of the year, he says. The economic and physical differences between New York and India are stark.

“Life is significantly harder [in the diocese] where I live,” he says. “I am happy that some are blessed, but we forget that in some places people are really struggling. It’s difficult as a priest, because you can’t preach to a hungry person. It makes me very grateful for what I have, but it also affects my own faith.”

His own faith was inculcated by his mom, Martha, who is now deceased. She used to bring him and his siblings to church every day. That planted the seeds of Father Kondaveti’s vocation to the priesthood, and he entered seminary at the age of 17 and was ordained in 1990.

It is challenging to be a Catholic priest in India, a nation that is about 80 percent Hindu, 14 percent Muslim and 2 percent Christian.

The challenges for Father Kondaveti included working in an orphanage, and traveling between parish missions as a diocesan priest, rotating village to village by bus or on a moped in the sweltering heat. At times, he says, it takes at least three days to go in between villages to celebrate Mass or administer the communion in poor communities. 

“In some places, my weekly collection was to the tune of $1,” he says.

His annual visits to Brooklyn, Father Kondaveti says, “re-energize” his spirit. They help the Diocese of Brooklyn, too.

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